Before You Talk to God, Make Sure You Brush Your Teeth

Recently I read back through just a bit of Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund–because I vaguely remember that there was something in there that had once had a grip on my mind–and I only had to suffer through 43 pages until I found it:

“..my advice to all is: when you first become conscious in the morning, get decent. I know some people say [pray] first, but don’t you sort of feel sorry for God when daily he has to face all those millions of hair curlers and old robes? What if you were the Almighty, and got prayed to with words spoken through all those unbrushed teeth? It seems to me like the ultimate test of grace.”

(Hm, so I should have compassion on God and look good before I pray?)

She goes on to pose a number of questions like these:

“How are your hips, thighs, tummy?”

“Do you need to get into that jogging suit and run?”

“How is your hair?”

“What kind of program are you on to stretch, bend, and stay supple, to stand tall; to be a good advertisement of God’s wonderful care of his children?”

(So I have to look good not only for God but for everyone else, too?)

From about age 15 or so, I used to get up early to use the NordicTrack or to do some idiotic aerobics routine before school, for 2 reasons:

1. I didn’t think I deserved to eat breakfast until I’d exercised

and

2. I didn’t think God wanted to hear from me unless I was ‘disciplined’ enough to exercise regularly.

Being a typical American teenager, it didn’t even occur to me that God might have bigger things to worry about than whether I reached my target heart rate or ate too many grams of saturated fat. I’m pretty sure 1996 had enough injustice, war, natural disaster, famine, and other stuff going on that God wouldn’t have minded hearing the prayers through unbrushed teeth or from girls who chose to do something with their spare time besides fitness and beauty maintenance.

surely I'm not the only one who had a caboodle?


I’m pretty sure that somewhere, deep down, I knew that God didn’t care what I looked like. Nonetheless, pleasing God by looking good was bound up in my mind and body with actually doing good in the world.

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf argues that the pressure on women to attain to an unrealistic standard of beauty has  increased along with women’s freedoms in other areas of society. A study of archived letters from students at Smith College suggests that women before suffrage (1920) were more likely to worry about needing to GAIN weight, while women after, almost universally, worried about needing to LOSE weight.

This problem, it’s not unlike my Audrey Hepburn problem. But it’s worse in some ways, too, because claims like Anne Ortlund’s use God as backup for enforcing white middle-class standards of beauty and grooming.

And her book isn’t the only one to do that. Lots of the ‘Christian’ diet books out there do the same thing. And that’s what had me so upset about the article in Relevant last week.

Because what’s good? And what does God want from us?

{100 sit-ups and 100 push-ups every morning? Detoxification ‘cleanses’?}

NO–

To do justice.

To love mercy.

To walk humbly with God.


4 thoughts on “Before You Talk to God, Make Sure You Brush Your Teeth

  1. I just want to follow up on something you said in your other post on the article in RELEVANT – that many people pull out the “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” verse and use it to say that we should take care of our bodies. I’ve found this to be the case as well and it has often frustrated me, both its individual focus and its narrowness in scope of meaning.

    The verse in context is Paul’s address to the Corinthian church as a whole – the “your” is plural. Also, the idea that the church body is a temple has more to do with the idea that now God’s earthly residence is not a temple building, but the very body of the church – this is where God’s presence is made manifest to the world. It has little to do with individual care of one’s body (though certainly individuals could reason from the idea that is good to take care of one’s own body, too – though, as you pointed out, we probably have a skewed view of what is ‘healthy’).

    Considering how often Paul has to address issues of table fellowship in his letters (disputes about who can eat with whom and whether or not Jews and Gentiles can eat together, etc., etc.), it seems that there is a lot to explore here particularly with regard to the communal aspect of eating. I think America is often very individualistic when it comes to food – we snack, we eat alone, we eat on the go. We often don’t sit down and enjoy food together and take advantage of the communal aspect of meals.

    1. Rebekah, absolutely. Great points about the “body is a temple” passage.

      Similarly, the “communion passage” in 1 Cor 11 is often read very individualistically–“one ought to examine himself…” is sometimes understood as “search yourself for sin” before partaking of the eucharist, when in reality, “recognizing the body” is all about recognizing the OTHER PEOPLE that make up the body of Christ…yes, the Scriptures speak a lot to the power, meaning, and importance of communal eating. Much, much to explore here. Some of this is touched on very skillfully in Norman Wirzba’s newest, Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating.

      Thanks for your comments!

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